Thursday, September 26, 2013

My kitchen's so bright, I gotta wear shades...

or another title for this post is:
My House is Backwards

When an architect begins to design a new building, one of the first stages of the process is to look at the site and see how the location and the the program could mesh. The site has it's own characteristics like the path of the sun, prevailing winds, good views to take advantage of, not-so-good views or noises to block, legal setbacks, existing vegetation, and neighboring buildings.

Program is the word architects use for the spaces/functions to be housed by the building. The program for a house can include living, dining, cooking, bathing, sleeping, and storage spaces. There can also be studying, changing, reading, workshop, etc. spaces depending on the client's needs.

Here's a good explanation of how an architect starts the design process:  How an architect thinks - YouTube

I live next door to this new house... so the solar orientation of the site was well understood by me. My house was built in 1890, with a typical layout of covered porch, foyer, and living room near the street, and the kitchen in the back of the house. The problem is that the front faces East. So my kitchen is dark in the morning while we groggily make our tea and coffee and the living room (which like most people, we tend to use in the evening) is getting that morning sun with no one there to enjoy it! And then in the late afternoon or evening, when the sun starts getting low on the western horizon, it glares into my kitchen while I cook dinner and the living room is now dark enough to need lamps turned on. You see how my house is backwards? I really do sometimes wear sunglasses while preparing dinner.

When I started some bubble diagrams laying out the design for the new house next door, I placed the kitchen on the east to receive morning light. I placed the living areas toward the back of the house so from there you have privacy from the street and can enjoy the afternoon sun and the views of the mountains. In addition, the bathrooms and stairs with their small windows, are on the north side, leaving the south side open for larger windows that let the sun into the living spaces.

I hope this sheds some light (ha!) on how an architect positions built spaces in nature to the best affect.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Small House in a Small Village

I designed this house specifically for my husband's parents to move into so they could have a new, smaller, easier to maintain home next to their son. They will be leaving the very large 1820's rural farmhouse where they've lived almost their entire 50+ years of married life. They bought it in the 1960's, raised their children there, hosted decades of family meals in the 24' long dining room, and even celebrated one daughter's wedding in the park-like yard. Whenever I feel fretful about my in-laws living next door and what that might mean for my family's autonomy, I remind myself how daunting this move must be for them.

Their new home will be much more modest in size, requiring them to pare down their belongings and saved items. It will also be comfortable, not drafty, inexpensive to heat, and it will boast two beautiful, efficient, and safe bathrooms. The rooms will be sunny and bright. The walls will be smooth and un-cracked. The floors will be level and even. (My Mother-in-law will at long last have the ability to get one of those "robot" vacuums she's dreamed about, but which was never a possibility in their old house with big, stepped thresholds between rooms) Toward the west they will have glorious views of the Catskill Mountains. From the front porch they will be able to watch their grandchild's school bus, as well as all the other members of the community walk or bike by - because this house is not in the suburbs, it is in a village.

The fact that the house is small and easy to maintain and has grab bars and and a curb-less shower are all design decisions that were made to accommodate aging in place. But more important than any of these universal design principles or having family next door if they need help, is that it is located in a small walkable village - not suburbia. Having lived in a walkable neighborhood for years, this above all else, is what I believe has the most value and will be what makes it a great place to move to in one's 70s. I hope they think so too.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Site Plan

The building site is a mostly flat and open 3 acre village lot with mountain views to the west (back). The house is sited to fit in within the pattern of the existing neighborhood. This means the narrow side of the building is parallel to the street and set back to match the adjacent houses and the garage is detached from the home. Location and placement are very important first steps in creating a new house that can comfortably blend into an established village neighborhood.